The 2022 legislative session led to a significant win for Washingtonians nearing retirement. More than a million near retirees are now eligible for benefits under the WA Cares Program.
We couldn’t do this important legislative work without the strength of our members' voices. Thank you for speaking up and helping urge passage of this important measure. With the passage of House Bill 1732, the Washington State Legislature and Governor Inslee expanded the program aimed at helping Washingtonians access quality, affordable long-term care when they need it, and in the settings they prefer.
Please take a moment to send a THANK YOU to your legislator and the Governor for their action to improve the WA Cares Program. Just click on this link to send them a message.
WA Cares is the new public long-term care program, providing Washingtonians with flexible and meaningful benefits ensuring families can choose the care setting and services that best meet their loved one’s needs. Based on a modest payroll contribution, vested and eligible employees will receive a benefit of $36,500 to help them access a wide array of choices, including in-home care, adult family homes, assisted living, skilled-nursing facilities, and others. The benefit can also be used to pay a family caregiver for their time, for medical equipment like emergency alert devices, and for services including but not limited to home modification, transportation or meal preparation.
In December of 2021, the legislature paused the start of WA Cares in order to make further improvements to the program. Including benefits for near-retirees was the number one priority for AARP, as the original legislation had a limited path for those who would retire before the 10-year vesting requirement to be eligible for WA Cares. Payroll contributions to WA Cares will now begin on July 1, 2023 and benefits will be available on July 1, 2026.
With the new legislation, Washington workers born before 1968 will qualify for partial benefits on a pro-rated basis, which equals 10% of the $36,500 benefit for each year they have paid into the fund. An eligible vesting year requires only 500 hours of work so part-time workers will also qualify.
AARP surveys indicate that 77% percent of adults fifty and older want to remain in their homes as they age. However, a vast majority of respondents also said they would need to modify their homes for themselves or for loved ones to live safely, including bathroom modifications, building ramps to address accessibility issues, or the purchase of an emergency response system. These are costs that Medicare and private long-term care insurance often will not cover, but WA Cares will.
WA Cares is a valuable new option for those of us who cannot get reliable private long-term care insurance. Private insurance policies are expensive, and annual premiums can cost $5-7,000/year on average for a couple age 65. In fact, only 7% of Washingtonians can afford private long-term care insurance. Compound that with the fact that insurers often charge women more than men for the same policies, cancel policies with little or no notice, and deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure or other conditions. Washingtonians will also only pay into the WA Cares Fund while they are working, so there are no skyrocketing private insurance premiums after you retire.
For most Washingtonians, the WA Cares Fund will be all families need. According to AARP research, 48% of people who need long-term care only need it for one year or less. And most of them don’t need full time skilled nursing care; they need a few hours of help each day with tasks like bathing, meal preparation, and transportation.
Without WA Cares, families would continue to drain their savings to afford care services. Only then will Medicaid step in to help pay for care, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for an exponential increase of new Medicaid enrollments due to the current age wave.
AARP is deeply committed to the success of WA Cares, not only for the change it will bring to older Washingtonians but for the change it could inspire nationwide.
Please join us in thanking your elected lawmakers for strengthening WA Cares, and for their commitment to helping us all better prepare for the care we need in the setting we prefer.